Labour promises to fix retail business rates


Published 26 September 2018 | Peter Walker

Labour to save the high street

The shadow business secretary has promised to save the High Street from “a slow and agonising death” with a five-point plan of reforms.

Speaking at the party’s conference in Liverpool, Rebecca Long-Bailey said that to rebuild Britain and breathe life back into communities, “Labour will scrap ATM charges, deliver free WiFi to town centres, introduce a register of empty properties, provide free bus travel for under 25s and overhaul the broken business rates system which is hammering retail”.

She continued: “Boarded-up shops and deserted high streets are a result of years of neglect and austerity – our country needs to radically change course so our towns can thrive again.”

No further details were given at this stage. The chancellor Philip Hammond revealed last month that he is considering a special retail tax on online businesses, which has been dubbed the ‘Amazon tax’, to help redress the balance with those operating on the High Street.

This came in response to pressure from retailers and their industry body the British Retail Consortium, which called for a two-year freeze on business rates increases to provide some relief for the industry at a time when it is under significant cost pressure, and is going through a period of transformation driven by technology and changing consumer behaviour.

Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said that the retail industry is going through a period of unprecedented change. “Taking action to fix a broken and outdated business rates system is essential if the country's largest private sector employer is to work towards a positive future.”

Already this year there have been several high-profile retail administrations - House of Fraser, Maplin and Toys R Us - and store closures - New Look, Carpetright and Mothercare.

In July, the government appointed a panel of experts to diagnose issues that currently affect the health of the UK’s High Streets and advise on practical measures to help them thrive now and in the future.

The news comes as research from retail technology firm Jisp, among 1,000 UK consumers, found that 35 per cent of shoppers said they would be tempted back to the High Street by stores more closely matching the prices of online competitors.

Nearly a quarter said rewards based on store loyalty would attract them back, while 19 per cent deemed better product selection in a wider range of sizes as the most important aspect.

“With consumers increasingly heading online, High Street retailers must start to offer more variety and competitive pricing to lure them back,” said Jisp chief executive Julian Fisher. “It is vital that retailers incentivise a return to the high street through initiatives, such as loyalty schemes, instore-only discounts and better stock availability.”

The poll also showed that 35 per cent of consumers have noticed a steady decline in shops on their local High Street over the past six years, with 27 per cent stating that it has deteriorated dramatically.

A better variety of shops (51 per cent) was shown to be the most likely reason to encourage people to shop locally, while 19 per cent suggested local opening hours would be a major incentive. However, some incentives to shop locally may be out of retailers’ hands, with almost half of consumers (49 per cent) citing free and safe parking.

Credit: Retail Systems

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